Issue 22’s review
A review by Jemimah Halbert Brewster (this review can also be read in the Underground zine, issue 22: Pop!)
Bird Country is Claire Aman’s first book, a short story collection featuring works that have previously been published by Black Inc., Griffith Review, Spineless Wonders, Margaret River Press, Scribe, ABR, and Island, so you may have read some of them before.
All of Aman’s stories deal with loss and longing in some form, and they are bleak and heartfelt. She has a lightness of touch with her characters; they are sparsely described, often not even given names, and their actions are described with a detachment that, far from washing out the characters and leaving them unreachable to the reader, enhances them in the manner of the archetype, of the everyperson. Her characters could be you, or your parents, your sibling, your partner. They, along with the familiar settings and situations, are almost transcendent: that could easily be you or someone you know at that wedding, that funeral, in that boat, on that road trip, about to be caught in that flood.
Complementing the everyperson nature of her characters, Aman’s settings are familiar, deeply Australian, and unsettlingly atmospheric. Her stories would not have the impact they do if it weren’t for the almost suffocating presence of the sunshine, the open road, the emptiness, the rain, the suburbs. She places her characters in settings so conversant that the reader feels plunged into the heat and humidity, brushing flies away and wishing the rain would come, or stop, and for anyone who has grown up in rural Australia it will feel like returning home for a few short pages.
Perhaps the most striking element of this collection is that most of the stories of Bird Country deal with death in some form, and often in unexpected ways. A small family take their grandfather’s ashes out to sea. A handyman helps an old woman live her last days with dignity. A father is unable to tell his daughters that their mother has passed. A candlestick maker is deeply affected by the death of a possum. Death appears in all forms and to all people, and Aman captures it in her everyperson characters in their deeply familiar settings, leaving the reader feeling unsettled and somehow wounded.
I would recommend this work to anyone who wants to inhabit the bleakness, solitude, and profound otherness of rural Australian landscapes, to anyone who is grieving or longing for someone, and to anyone who likes their stories with a heavy dose of foreboding that sometimes but not always arrives.